Entrepreneurial librarianship is going global and playing an ever-increasing role in library services. That was the overall takeaway from the 2022 Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference (Entrelib or ELC International for short).
Sponsored by BLINC, the business librarianship section of the North Carolina Library Association, Entrelib was co-led by three academic business librarians. Building on a track record of sponsoring conferences and other events, this was BLINC’s first effort to involve a truly global audience. The planning committee included members from nine countries on four continents: Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Speakers represented similarly diverse locations, and the conference, which did not charge a fee, drew 300 registrants. To accommodate the worldwide participation, the conference consisted of two 2-hour Zoom calls over 2 days: one in the morning (U.S. EDT) on Nov. 1 and one in the evening (U.S. EDT) on Nov. 2.
In her opening remarks, conference co-chairperson Summer Krstevska from North Carolina’s Wake Forest University stated that the event would explore “approaches libraries have undertaken to support social entrepreneurship”; that is, the application of entrepreneurial tactics to realize social, rather than commercial, objectives. But supporting social entrepreneurs is just one way that librarians engage with entrepreneurship. Librarians themselves can also be social entrepreneurs. And whether acting as entrepreneurs or supporting entrepreneurs, they rely on strategies and tactics that are just as applicable to working with business students and commercial entrepreneurs. Conference presentations covered all of these relationships and initiatives. The following are some snapshots.
Librarians as Social Entrepreneurs
A pervasive theme was that librarians are social entrepreneurs—not just support staff for social entrepreneurs. Dr. Elizabeth Babarinde from the University of Nigeria presented an overview of the attributes of entrepreneurial librarians. She emphasized the inherent break with traditional, passively oriented service philosophy and, more controversially, with the principle of neutrality. Many of her key points will be familiar to those who have been involved in the evolution of library services: proactivity, partnering with non-librarians to achieve organizational and service goals, and getting out of the library—being present in the community.
Other speakers amplified these themes. Akram Fathian of the Regional Information Center for Science and Technology in Iran presented her ontology relating entrepreneurship to librarianship. Unfortunately, the ontology is not publicly available at this time. Several speakers offered examples of librarians’ entrepreneurial initiatives. Ngozi Osuchukwu from Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria described efforts to introduce librarians and library user communities to Wikipedia, and Ashley Werlinich and Jimmy McKee from Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. discussed their Arts X initiative—a project to introduce arts students to entrepreneurship. Discussing their strategy, McKee, whose title is “entrepreneurship librarian,” noted, “a lot of this comes down to embedded librarianship. …”
Several speakers shared their experiences as librarians supporting entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs in their communities. Among them, Hadiza SaAadu, small business and nonprofit specialist at Kansas City Public Library, described the obstacles encountered by members of disadvantaged communities in obtaining capital for business startups. As a member of the library’s Community Reference Team, she helps overcome both information access barriers and barriers caused by lack of personal relationships to advocates, lenders, and grantors.
Three librarians from the University of Victoria in Canada combined the ideas of librarians as entrepreneurs and support for entrepreneurs in their presentation. Responding to a university initiative to emphasize entrepreneurship and form the Coast Capital Innovation Centre, they developed a program of workshops and resources and secured a role for themselves and the library in this strategic initiative.
In a presentation that bridged the connection between social and commercial entrepreneurship, Wendy Pothier from the University of New Hampshire outlined her participation in a First Year Experience program for business students. One of the program’s unique features is that it requires students to address one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Working in teams, students create business plans and pitches connected to the selected goal. As their librarian, Pothier teaches market research and sustainability research goals, using tactics such as self-paced instruction modules and “train the trainer” sessions to leverage her time and knowledge (and avoid burnout).
Entrepreneurial Tools and Techniques
A number of presentations focused on tools and techniques that are relevant to entrepreneurship in any context. Among them, Allison Smith from the University of Ottawa in Canada explored the use of passive monitoring of social media conversations to gain insights into niche markets. She described her monitoring of Reddit and Instagram conversations and the use of a variety of tools, including screen scrapers, cluster analysis tools, hashtag generators, and AI-based tone and sentiment analyzers to gather and analyze evidence.
Amanda Wheatley from McGill University in Canada focused on the Impact Gaps Canvas and how she uses it in her teaching. The Impact Gaps Canvas is a freely available tool that helps students “learn about a problem before jumping in to try to solve it,” according to its webpage. Wheatley combines it with an evidence-based practice approach to help entrepreneurship students analyze information gaps and research needs.
Finally, in what could serve as a summary of the conference, Megan Janicki of ALA highlighted the organization’s Libraries Build Business initiative, which aims to help public libraries connect with local businesses and entrepreneurs. Program resources are available from ALA’s website at ala.org/advocacy/workforce/grant.
Entrelib presentations are publicly available via the conference website at entrelib.org/international-2022. Many of the presenters—those mentioned in this article and others—also provided links to their presentations, links to other resources, and their contact information. The only session not recorded was a networking period, during which attendees were encouraged to share brief comments about their work and professional interests.
Beyond covering entrepreneurial librarianship, the Entrelib conference shows what’s possible in grassroots professional development in today’s world. A small group of librarians located in one U.S. state brought together a truly global community to discuss a common interest. They had (and needed) almost no funding: There were no travel and facilities costs; they didn’t recruit (and pay) a big-name keynote speaker. Starting with existing contacts, they used LinkedIn to expand their network across the globe. They used free and institutionally funded appropriate technology to achieve worldwide impact. If they could do it, other professional interest communities can too. All it takes is vision, skill, and hard work.
So, what’s next? According to co-organizer Steve Cramer, BLINC will host a pitch competition in 2023, and at this time, there are no definite plans for a future ELC International conference. Meanwhile, the conversation will continue in the Entrelib International group on LinkedIn. Given their entrepreneurial orientation, it’s likely we haven’t heard the last from the Entrelib organizers.